Ben is Back


Julia Roberts shows quiet resolve in a powerful scene from “Ben is Back.”

(2018) Drama (LD Entertainment/Roadside Attractions) Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton, Rachel Bay Jones, David Zaldivar, Alexandra Park, Michael Esper, Tim Guinee, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Kristin Griffith, Jack Davidson, Mia Fowler, Jakari Fraser, Cameron Roberts, Jeff Auer, Henry Stram, Bill Buell, Sandra Caldwell, Nathalie Carvalho. Directed by Peter Hedges

 

A mother’s love is a beautiful thing. It crosses all boundaries, it transcends time. A mother loves her child with a fierce devotion that is unmatched. It doesn’t matter whether her child is a saint or a sinner, a success or a failure – that mother loves that child unconditionally and without measure.

Holly (Roberts) returns home with her three young children on Christmas Eve to their comfortable home in a New England town to find an unexpected surprise – her eldest son Ben (Hedges) from a previous relationship. Ben has been in rehab for heroin addiction but he informs his over-the-moon mom that he’s doing so well that his sponsor has agreed to sign him out for a holiday pass to come home.

The youngest siblings Liam (Fraser) and Lacey (Fowler) are overjoyed to see their big brother but eldest daughter Ivy (Newton) is less enthusiastic. She remembers previous Christmas holidays ruined by Ben and worried sick, she calls stepfather Neal (Vance) to let him know what’s going on. Holly is a little more pragmatic though; while Ben plays outside with Liam and Lacey she hides all her jewelry and prescription medicine. Neal comes home and is absolutely pissed, demanding that Ben return to the treatment facility. Holly reluctantly prepares to drive him back but Neal, seeing Holly’s dejection, relents and gives Ben a day – a day in which Ben will be drug tested and watched like a hawk.

Needless to say things fall apart quickly. Former drug associates of Ben show up and vandalize the house, among other things. Holly is dragged into Ben’s world as he desperately tries to make things right. Over all the specter looms – can Ben stay clean or will he regress and use again and maybe spiral down to an early grave?

The movie is a harrowing and often heartbreaking look at how addiction affects not just the addict but all those around him or her – him in this case. At least, it does for the first part of the film; the second part becomes something more of a thriller as Holly pursues Ben into the underworld of her community, desperately trying to rescue him from himself. It is less effective than the first part of the film.

Despite the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the film, it still works mainly due to phenomenal performances by Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges. For Roberts, this is one of the Oscar-winning actress’ finest performances of her career. It is telling that this has been such a phenomenal year for performances by women in the movies that Roberts won’t likely be part of the conversation for the short list. In most any other year, she would be. She brings a wide emotional range, from desperate to nurturing to angry to terrified, making us feel all of them without a false note in the bunch. At the end of the day this is a performance we can believe without hesitation. I can imagine any mom going through the gamut, wanting so much to find hope that her son will return to her yet knowing deep down that as an addict he will lie and cheat and steal and dash all her hopes more likely than not.

Hedges, himself nominated for an Oscar for Manchester by the Sea, gives a terrific performance in the title role. Ben is charming and smart but he is also full of demons. You end  up rooting for him but deep down as the movie progresses you know he can’t be trusted. Hedges doesn’t make Ben too likable to be realistic but neither does he turn Ben into a monster. Ben’s just a kid who went down the wrong path and now doesn’t have an inkling of how to right himself.

This is a flawed film but nonetheless an effective one. It is raw and gritty in the places that it needs to be, underscoring it with the idyllic family life that Holly has without Ben. There are some really magnificent moments, such as when during a visit to a mall Holly confronts the doctor who was responsible for getting Ben hooked on opioids in the first place. There’s also a moment when during church services Ben realizes that the family of a girl he helped hook on heroin but who passed away is in the congregation with him.

Any good doctor will tell you that addiction doesn’t just change the life of the addict but of everyone who cares about them. That is the gist of the message here and it is prevented in a powerful way. The Christmas setting only serves to further make the message more poignant. This may be too much of a downer for some at this time of year but it is a movie that earns the praise it is getting.

REASONS TO GO: Heartrending dramatic moments starkly illustrate the effects of drug abuse on families. Roberts gives one of her finest performances ever. Hedges is nearly as brilliant as Roberts. The message is firmly underscored by the Christmas eve setting.
REASONS TO STAY: The story is a bit fractured, devolving into a standard thriller during the final third. Some may find it too depressing for this time of year.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a lot of profanity, some brief violence and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lucas Hedges is the son of director Peter Hedges
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beautiful Boy
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Bob Lazar: Flying Saucers and Area 51

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New Releases for the Week of December 21, 2018


AQUAMAN

(Warner Brothers) Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temeura Morrison. Directed by James Wan

Arthur Curry, the son of a lighthouse keeper, discovers that he is heir to the throne to Atlantis. There are forces aligned against him, however, that want him to stay on land – and who also wish to wage war against the land-dwellers.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, DTSX, IMAX, IMAX 3D, RPX, RPX 3D, ScreenX, XD, XD 3D

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language)

Ben is Back

(Roadside Attractions) Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton. When her drug addicted teen son from a first marriage returns unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, a mother is at first delighted but cautious. As the evening goes on it becomes apparent that things are not as they seem with him and soon she is dragged unwillingly into his world with the rest of her family dragged in behind her. Look for the review on Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Barnstorm Theater, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some drug use)

Bumblebee

(Paramount) Hailee Steinfeld, Dylan O’Brien (voice), John Cena, Megyn Price. In 1987 a young girl finds the battle-scarred and broken Transformer Bumblebee in the junkyard of a small California town. She soon finds herself in the middle of an interstellar conflict which threatens the very existence of planet Earth itself.

See the trailer clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, 4DX, Dolby, RPX, XD, XD 3D
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action violence)

Mary Queen of Scots

(Focus) Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, David Tennant. The story of the half-sister of Queen Elizabeth I the two of whom were once close but turned into bitter rivals and eventually, deadly foes.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for some violence and sexuality)

Mary Poppins Returns

(Disney) Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer. The Banks children, one of the beneficiaries of the legendary Mary Poppins, have all grown up and have children of their own. Now Mary returns to save the Banks family once more with her heartwarming brand of magic.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, RPX
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened Wednesday)
Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements and brief action)

Second Act

(STX) Jennifer Lopez, Leah Remini, Vanessa Hudgens, Treat Williams. An ambitious big box retail clerk reinvents her job history and biography and ends up with a golden opportunity to show the Wall Street boys club what a street smart Puerto Rican woman can do.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some crude sexual references, and language)

Welcome to Marwen

(Universal/DreamWorks) Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Janelle Monáe. A man who was the victim of a brutal beating that cost him his memory, tries to rebuild his shattered life through a make-believe town that he constructs where he can be heroic and strong. This is based on an actual incident.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of fantasy violence, some disturbing images, brief suggestive content, thematic material and language)

Zero

(Yash Raj) Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma, Karina Kaif, Salman Khan. A young man born to wealth and privilege and was content in his life. Then he meets two women who broaden his outlook and give him a purpose he never knew he needed.

See the trailer, promos and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Universal Citywalk, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

American Renegades
Antariksham
Burning
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Antariksham
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu
Shoah: Four Sisters
Swimming with Men

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Antariksham
KGF Chapter 1
Padi Padi Leche Manasu

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

KGF Chapter 1

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Aquaman
Ben is Back
Bumblebee
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Poppins Returns
Swimming with Men
Welcome to Marwen

Wonder


Julia Roberts with her new leading man.

(2017) Dramedy (Lionsgate) Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Noah Jupe, Bryce Gheisar, Elle McKinnon, Daveed Diggs, Ty Consiglio, Kyle Breitkopf, James Hughes, J. Douglas Stewart, Millie Davis, Ali Liebert, Joseph Gordon, Cameron Roberts, Nadji Jeter, Danielle Rose Russell, Erika McKitrick, Sonia Braga, Nicole Oliver. Directed by Stephen Chbosky

 

Going to a new school can be traumatic even in the best of circumstances. Throw in that you know – without any doubt whatsoever – that you are for certain going to be bullied. How much more traumatic does that make things?

Auggie (Tremblay) is in that exact situation. He’s not being bullied because of sexual preference, religion or race; Auggie has a disfiguring disease known as Treacher Collins syndrome. The effects of 27 surgeries besides making it necessary for Auggie to be homeschooled have allowed him to breathe and essentially survive but nothing really can change the deformities of his face. They are so pronounced that he’d rather wear an astronaut’s helmet to school which would merely mark him as weird than go barefaced which marks him as a freak.

His loving parents – Nate (Wilson), the cool dad we all wanted and Isabel (Roberts), the über-protective Mama Bear – are worried for him. His big sister, teenaged Via (Vidovic) is protective of him but has troubles of her own; her best friend Miranda (Russell) has suddenly shut her out and is off with a much different clique of friends. Forlorn, she signs up for drama class and meets a cute guy Justin (Jeter) who she crushes on and eventually the two begin dating.

Auggie, with his upbeat attitude and intelligence begins to make friends despite the hardships. Jack Will (Jupe) becomes his best friend although Julian (Gheisar) continues to torment him. Still all the people in Auggie’s orbit are trying to make it the best they can but it isn’t easy.

This is based on a bestselling children’s book by RJ Palacio who was inspired to write it when her son whom she had taken out for ice cream was brought to tears by the sight of a kid with Treacher Collins syndrome. The book is very heartwarming and teaches the value of accepting people as they are and the movie follows it pretty closely from a stylistic perspective.

The acting is solid – one might say wonderful – with Tremblay getting particular kudos. Child actors tend to be stiff and hammy but Tremblay plays it with a degree of naturalism that is refreshing. Yeah from time to time he says and does thing that come from the perfect kid school of filmmaking but that’s not on Tremblay, the actor. Considering he has to emote under layers of make-up, something some adults have trouble with, one has to really give the kid kudos. Most of the other performances are strong as well, although I would have wished for more Roberts. It seems a shame to hire her on for a role like this one and not have her in the picture more.

My issue is that a lot of the book – and the movie – is a bit too nice, suffering from too-good-to-be-truism. They all have their weak moments but it’s like the entire movie is populated from characters in a children’s show and it doesn’t feel real or authentic. I needed a little more of both to make this work for me.

Movies that are this emotionally manipulative tend to irritate critics but for some reason critics embraced this one. It got strong scores on Rotten Tomatoes (see below) and while it’s pretty much out of the awards consideration picture, it nonetheless got favorable reviews from both critics and consumers alike. I wish I could join them but this felt a little bit too bland and predictable for me to do so.

REASONS TO GO: Tremblay gives a nice, nuanced performance.
REASONS TO STAY: This is a bit too vanilla and predictable for my tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: There are scenes of bullying and some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The medical name for Auggie’s affliction is mandibulofacial dystosis.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mask
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
Strawberry Flavored Plastic

New Releases for the Week of November 17, 2017


THE JUSTICE LEAGUE

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Ciaran Hinds, Jesse Eisenberg, Amber Heard, Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Connie Nielsen. Directed by Zack Snyder

With Superman no longer in the picture, Earth is facing a threat beyond any it has surmounted up to now. Batman gathers the heroes of Earth – Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg – to stand against the threat of Steppenwolf and his legions but they may not be enough.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX, DBOX, Dolby, RPX
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action)

Lady Bird

(A24) Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush, Timothée Chalamet, Laurie Metcalf. A spirited and iconoclastic young woman living in Northern California with a mom who doesn’t understand her confronts the obstacles of growing up as she tries to reconcile her own burgeoning sexuality. The director is writer and actress Greta Gerwig.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying)

Sidemen: Long Road to Glory

(Abramorama) Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Hubert Sumlin, Marc Maron. Three musicians who helped develop the Chicago blues sound with such legends as Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters have influenced not only the blues but popular music in general and rock and roll specifically. Late in life, they would win a Grammy on their own. This is their incredible story.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Monday only)
Rating: NR

The Star

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Steven Yeun, Kristin Chenoweth, Christopher Plummer, Zachary Levi. The story of the first Christmas as seen through the eyes of the animals who were present.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

Wonder

(Lionsgate) Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin. A young boy with facial disfigurements attends a mainstream school for the first time. Unsure of himself and self-conscious about his face, he endures bullying but slowly begins to win everyone over in the school with his amazing perseverance and optimistic attitude.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Cook Off
Frank Serpico
Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru
Tumhari Sulu

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Aida’s Secrets
Khakee: The Power of Police
Last Flag Flying
Novitiate
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru
Tragedy Girls
Tumhari Sulu

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Ghost Bride
Khakee: The Power of Police
Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Justice League
Lady Bird
Novitiate
Sidemen: Long Road to Glory
Wonder

New Releases for the Week of April 7, 2017


SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE

(Sony Animation) Starring the voices of Demi Lovato, Julia Roberts, Mandy Patinkin, Rainn Wilson, Jack McBrayer, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper. Directed by Kelly Asbury

Has anyone ever wondered why there is only one girl Smurf? Neither have I but I’m sure someone has. Smurfette sets out with her friends through the Forbidden Forest to find a mysterious village before the evil sorcerer Gargamel does and when they do, we find out where all the girl Smurfs are. How Smurfy is that?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes, premiere footage and B-Roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some mild action and rude humor)

1 Mile to You

(Gravitas) Melanie Lynskey, Tim Roth, Billy Crudup, Stefanie Scott. When a teenage boy’s friends die in a car accident, he is completely devastated. He takes up running to deal with the pain and also to remember his friends. His running however catches the attention of track coaches who recognize his raw potential. Can they bring him from dwelling on his past into creating a bright future?

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

The Case for Christ

(Pure Flix) Mike Vogel, Erika Christensen, Faye Dunaway, Robert Forster. Based on the experiences of Lee Strobel, an award-winning journalist and atheist, he sets out to disprove the existence of Christ after his wife undergoes a faith renewal. What he discovers in his investigation is not what he expected at all.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Faith Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements including medical descriptions of crucifixion, and incidental smoking)

Going in Style

(New Line) Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margaret. Three retirees, lifelong friends all, are startled when their pension fund is wiped out by the greed of a bank. Desperate to make ends meet, they decide to not only solve their financial problems but exact a little justice as well when they determine to rob the very bank that stole their money. Poetic justice, yes, but much easier said than done when you consider that none of them has committed a crime in their lives.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for drug content, language and some suggestive material)

Mine

(Well Go USA) Armie Hammer, Tom Cullen, Annabelle Wallis, Clint Dyer. After their assignment ends in failure, a U.S. Marine sniper and his spotter are forced to cross the desert when the helicopter assigned to evacuate them from the enemy zone is grounded due to sand storms. Nearing the village where they will be driven back to their base, the two find themselves in a field of land mines where the sniper has stepped on a mine and cannot move without setting it off. Low on food and water with no way to go even a step further, he is forced to contemplate what got him there in the first place. Look for a review of this in Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

My Life as a Zucchini

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Amy Sedaris. Nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar in the most recent Academy awards, this charming French stop-motion film follows an imaginative young boy who is sent to an orphanage after his mother passes away suddenly. Lonely in a sometimes hostile environment, he searches for a family to call his own while learning to trust once again. The Enzian will be presenting the film both in its original French with subtitles as well as an English language version. Be sure and check which version is playing when you head out to the theater.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements and suggestive material)

Queen of the Desert

(IFC) Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Robert Pattinson, Damian Lewis. The true story of Gertrude Bell, a English woman in the early years of the 20th century who chafed at the role she was relegated to in Victorian England. She traveled to the Middle East and fell in love with the culture and the freedoms it afforded her. Her views on the Bedouin helped shape the course of the century and indeed the modern world itself.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG-13 (for brief nudity and some thematic elements)

Raw

(Focus World) Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laurent Lucas. A vegetarian who is following in her family’s footsteps to become a veterinarian undergoes a ritual hazing involving eating meat. This awakens a taste for flesh inside her that becomes more and more irresistible until it threatens to consume her. This French film was the talk of the most recent Cannes Film Festival.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying)

Your Name

(FUNimation) Starring the voices of Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh, Kyle Hebert, Cassandra Morris. This beautiful anime, the number one movie in Japan last year, concerns two young people who randomly switch bodies from time to time. They learn to communicate with each other and eventually, bond for each other. At last that realize that they need to meet face to face but making that happen proves to be a much thornier problem than either one could anticipate.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, suggestive content, brief language and smoking)

Money Monster


Clooney busts a move.

Clooney busts a move.

(2016) Thriller (Tri-Star) George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West, Caitriona Balfe, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Denham, Lenny Venito, Chris Bauer, Dennis Boutsikaris, Emily Meade, Condola Rashad, Aaron Yoo, Carsey Walker Jr., Grant Rosenmeyer, Jim Warden, Joseph D. Reitman, Olivia Luccardi. Directed by Jodie Foster

The American Experience

There are a lot of ways to get a person under your thumb. Economically is usually the best method and involves the least bloodshed. However, it must be said that people can only be pushed so far before bloodshed becomes inevitable.

Lee Gates (Clooney) is a financial expert who has a popular financial advice program on a cable network. It is somewhat wild and crazy like Lee himself; Lee has a tendency, much to the exasperation of his producer Patty Fenn (Roberts), to go off the reservation. So when a flustered young delivery man, carrying a couple of packages wanders onto the set, Lee is sure it’s his crew playing a practical joke on him while Patty thinks that it’s one of Lee’s improvisations.

It’s neither. It’s Kyle Budwell (O’Connell), a working class schmoe who was crazy enough to follow Lee’s investment advice – except that advice turned out to be tragically wrong. IBIS, the software company that Kyle invested in, had seen $800 million of its assets vanish overnight and its charismatic CEO Walt Camby (West) is nowhere to be seen. He was supposed to be a guest on Lee’s program but instead they were sending Diane Lester (Balfe), a publicity flack (whom Camby is  apparently sleeping with).

Kyle has loaded guns which he demonstrates by firing into the ceiling, getting everyone’s attention. He slaps on a bomb vest that he hid in one of the packages onto Lee and proceeds to demand to talk to the absent CEO. Patty manages to clear the studio, but it seems only a matter of time before Kyle loses complete control of the situation. What neither Patty nor Lee count on is that they too would be swept up in Kyle’s saga and want to find out the answers for their own peace of mind as well.

Given the somewhat negative view most people have regarding the shenanigans on Wall Street over the past few years, this movie plays into those feelings pretty much perfectly – almost to the point of cliché. The villain of this piece is too easily spotted and becomes almost laughable. We don’t get a real sense of depth to that person; it’s just greed, greed, greed and a sense that people deserve to get their life savings defrauded from them because they don’t have the kind of fortune that the villain has. It’s a bit of a cop-out in my opinion.

That said, this is the kind of movie that is going to give you a good idea of why people are angry at Wall Street. The Lee Gates character – who is clearly modeled on Jim Cramer and the show clearly Mad Money on steroids – is a bit buffoonish and certainly a paean to poor investment strategies which is something Cramer is sometimes accused of peddling in real life. Clooney gives the character a bit more depth than we might have otherwise. Would the film have worked better if Lee was the kind of insensitive douchebag that he appears to be at the beginning of the movie? I don’t think so, but at least one critic accused the filmmakers of “star saving” Clooney (i.e. making him appear nicer than he appears to be in order to maintain his likability) which is not something Clooney has indulged in over the years.

Roberts is seen far less frequently onscreen than I would like, but continues to be every inch the star she’s been for the past *mumble, mumble* years – has it really been that long? She has deepened into more of a solid actress over the past decade, not needing to rely quite as much on the wattage of her amazing smile and the glow of her incandescent personality that over the years has made her the ultimate girl next door. Here, she’s a working stiff trying to labor for the unappreciative and has been a little bit beaten down by her star’s lack of empathy. Still, she prides herself on her professionalism and when the rubber hits the road, responds with calm and decisive leadership. This is one of those roles that is slightly subversive without being obvious about it; perhaps Foster, certainly one of the strongest women in Hollywood, has something to do with it as well. To my mind, Patty is the real hero of this piece but not many will get that.

O’Connell is best known for his role in Unbroken but to my mind finally really shows what he’s capable of going back to small but memorable roles in films like Harry Brown. His performance as Kyle shows a man beaten down to the bone by a system that chews up and spits out people like Kyle. With nothing else to lose, he demands answers from those who aren’t willing to give them and this leads him to an act of desperation – and yes, stupidity – that becomes the crux of the film’s emotional center.

Foster has been the kind of director who makes magic even when the scripts she’s given to work with don’t necessarily have a lot of it in it. There’s a good deal that’s way too familiar here but Foster works with it well and gives us a credible film despite the predictability of the plot. There’s some sly satire here about America’s penchant for greed and making money without wanting to put in the work. It is counter to our Puritan heritage in which hard work is valued and indeed, rewarded. In this modern era, we seem to be more inclined to value cutting corners – and rewarding those who do inordinately. And maybe that’s at the center of why Main Street is so pissed off at Wall Street. Perhaps some of the captains of industry need to be reminded of those ethics that made this country great in the first place.

REASONS TO GO: Foster is a masterful director. Clooney and Roberts are always eye-catching. Dials in to the anger that a lot of people are feeling about Wall Street.
REASONS TO STAY: Pretty cliché storyline. The villain of the piece is a little too obvious.
FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of profanity, some sexuality and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fourth time Clooney and Roberts have appeared in a film together.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/4/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Big Short
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Conjuring 2

Secret in Their Eyes


The eyes have it.

The eyes have it.

(2015) Mystery (STX) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina, Dean Norris, Joe Cole, Michael Kelly, Zoe Graham, Patrick Davis, Eileen Fogarty, Lyndon Smith, Kim Yarbrough, Mark Famiglietti, Amir Malaklou, Niko Nicotera, David Israel, Dennis Keiffer, Don Harvey, Glenn Davis, Walter Tabayoyong, Michael Tennant, Ho Sung Pak, Saige Donaldson. Directed by Billy Ray

 

The line between justice and vengeance is often a fine one. There are those that say that you can have one or the other but never both; there are others that say they go hand in hand. Either way, both are exceedingly hard to attain and in the pursuit of one, often one has to settle for the other. When what attains is vengeance, we often have to kill a little piece of ourselves in order to find it.

In the aftermath of 9-11, an elite counter-terrorism task force has been established in Los Angeles by multiple law enforcement agencies. District Attorney Martin Morales (Molina) heads up the team, and among his agents are partners Ray (Ejiofor) from the FBI and Jess (Roberts) from the L.A. District Attorney’s investigative team. In their crosshairs is a downtown mosque which is said to harbor a cleric who had intentions of taking the jihadist fight to the City of Angels.

When a body is found in a dumpster next to the mosque, red flags are sent up and Ray and Jess are sent to investigate. However, the grisly discovery is of Jess’ 18-year-old daughter Carolyn (Graham), a vivacious soul who had been getting ready to go to college in the fall. The discovery devastates the team. New assistant D.A. Claire (Kidman) is assigned the case and a suspect is quickly located. However, dead end upon dead end frustrates the team and eventually Ray figures out who really did it – an informant within the mosque itself (Cole). But he is being protected by powerful forces and is set free, only to disappear.

Thirteen years later, Ray – now working as a security consultant for the New York Mets – comes to Claire – now the District Attorney – with the startling news that Ray has located the long-missing suspect. Claire and Jess (who still works for the office) are reluctant to reopen old wounds but Ray is particularly obsessed with the case and in bringing the man who killed Jess’ daughter in to pay for his crime. But even now, there are obstacles in the way of finding peace for Ray, Jess – and Claire.

This is based on the 2009 Oscar-winning film The Secret in Their Eyes, an Argentine film that won Best Foreign Language Film that year. While the plots are identical, some of the details have been changed which changes the dynamics of the newer film somewhat. Also you have three Oscar-caliber actors, all of whom who have won or at least been nominated, in the main parts.

Ejiofor is the central character and as he did in 12 Years a Slave he carries the movie on his broad shoulders. The scene in which he discovers the identity of the body in the dumpster is an incredible piece of work, although it is sadly unduplicated throughout the rest of the film. No, all three of the actors in the front deliver good, solid performances with moments of excellence. Roberts in particular has a haunted look that is most unlike any of her previous performances.

The problem here is that the low-key aspect of the film drains the energy from the audience. The pacing is extraordinarily slow and there were a number of scenes that I thought could have been trimmed if not excised. Ray also jumps in time between 2002 and 2015 and often the only way to tell what time period you’re observing is by the amount of gray in Ray’s hair. I occasionally found it confusing and hard to follow.

The overall atmosphere has a bit of a noir edge to it, just as the original did albeit with a Latin flavor. Transplanting the movie to Los Angeles robs it of that and indeed gives the movie an oddly generic quality – so many thrillers have been set in L.A. that there’s a been there-done that patina. That’s kind of disturbing and not in a good way.

While the ending is cathartic if a bit preposterous, it doesn’t save the audience from feeling that this is something they’ve seen before, even if you haven’t seen the original movie this is based on. Considering the abilities of the director and the talent of the cast, this is an extremely disappointing project that on paper should have been much better than it turned out to be. While it is still entertaining and I can recommend it solely on that basis, this is a movie that is haunted by the specter of what could have been.

REASONS TO GO: All three leads are fine actors. Cathartic. Noir-esque.
REASONS TO STAY: Surprisingly lethargic. Could have used some judicious editing. Time jumping can be confusing (keep an eye on the actors’ hair for clues).
FAMILY VALUES: Disturbing violence and sexual content, rape and plenty of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: All three of the leads – Ejiofor, Kidman and Roberts – are left-handed.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/8/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Zodiac
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: The Second Mother